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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Happy Polyandry

Posted by on December 27 at 15:21 PM

One more report from The Herald.

Woman stays with two husbands under one roof

Herald Reporter

A SANYATI woman is living with two men who neighbours believe are both her husbands.

And while everyone might be astounded by this marital state of affairs, the Rocklands community in Sanyati has learnt to accept the odd arrangement, which has been in existence since 1995.

The woman, who uses her first husband’s name, has somehow managed to have her “two spouses” get along very well.

This form of polygamy between one woman and several men, who are her husbands simultaneously and exclusively, is called polyandry.

Though records of it go back centuries, polyandry is taboo in most societies. Tibet is the most well-documented cultural domain within which it is practiced, but it has been outlawed.

Polyandry is also found in India, Sri Lanka, some regions of China, in some Sub-Saharan African communities, and in indigenous communities of Australia, New Zealand and America (notably among the Surui of north-western Brazil).

Polyandry stands in stark contrast to and is overwhelmingly less common than polygyny, a polygamous marriage in which a man has more than one wife.

Causes of polyandry appear to be the perceived need to retain aristocratic titles and/or agricultural lands within kin groups; and/or frequent male absence for long periods from the household. Rival suitors have been known since time immemorial for not tolerating each other and even going to the extent of spilling blood.

However, these two Sanyati "co-husbands" are said to get along so well that one would be tempted to think that a brotherly bond of kinship exists between them.

Contacted for comment, the woman and "husband number one's" first reaction was to vehemently refute any such goings-on. The woman and one of the two husbands "the elder one" denied that they were involved in such an arrangement, but close relatives and neighbours confirmed the odd situation.

However, infuriated by the questions, the woman said impatiently: "Even if there is something like that going on, I believe it is private and none of your business."

Believe it or not, the other husband is known in the whole neighbourhood for boasting about the way his wife cares for him and provides for his every need and come Sunday the trio go to church.

Having been warned by neighbours that the woman had a violent temper, we approached her and her family at their homestead with caution.

We introduced ourselves and said that we were on a tour of resettled farming areas.

After informing them of our seemingly "harmless" mission, we managed to strike a conversation.

After about half an hour or so of chatting about the challenges they were facing this farming season, the woman probably in her late 40s or early 50s excused herself.

We then asked the man whom we later got to know was husband number one, a 68-year-old whether he was aware of any woman in the vicinity who had two husbands. We told him that we had bumped into the story during our tour of the area.

He then angrily demanded to know if that was the true purpose of our visit.

However, before we could answer him, the man abruptly broke out in laughter, asking whether it was possible for a woman to have two husbands.

Yet again before we could respond to his question, his wife who appeared to have been eavesdropping on our conversation returned to where we were seated and asked us if we had been given the woman's identity or knew her appearance and why we were interested in the matter.

"Did those people who told you about this story give you the name of the person or did they give you a description? There is nothing like that here. Anyway, why are you so interested in the story? It has got nothing to do with farming," she said.

During all this time, husband number one never said a thing. His silence seemed as if in apparent agreement with his wife. He kept on mending a pair of trousers with his sewing machine as if deaf to the conversation that was going on within his earshot.

However, to our good fortune, a relative believed to be the elder brother of husband number one arrived and we saw it as our chance to leave the homestead before all hell broke loose. From the look of things, we had overstayed our welcome. Neighbours said the matter had ceased to shock them because they had lived with the situation for the past decade.

"We were surprised at first, but we seem to have got used to the fact that two able-bodied men can agree to be married to the same woman at the same time and believe that there is nothing wrong with that.

"In my entire life I had never witnessed such a thing until I came to settle here. In our Shona culture this is unheard of and unacceptable. That woman deserves to be called a prostitute and it seems these men have both been bewitched," said a neighbour, who refused to identify himself in fear of the woman's reputation for violence.

However the woman has not fallen pregnant in the 10 years she has been living with her two husbands. Her last born, reportedly from an earlier union, is still at school

Husband number two, who is said to be slightly older than his wife, is married to another woman and rarely visits her even though she lives only a stone's throw from the three's home.

Husband number two has five children of his own. He helps husband number one in ploughing the "family's" fields and takes along his children to carry out the task.

"Husband number one, it seems, is really proud of himself and his wife because he always brags about being taken care of by his wife's other husband," said a neighbour.